Moments Matter

My Dad, My Hero (A Repost)

Editor’s Note: “My Dad, My Hero” — a repost in honor of all those who serve our great country. Especially my dad, the bravest guy I know.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” — Joseph Campbell

If he died, then I would not have been born.

I’m talking about my dad – a decorated, Vietnam War hero. He fought battles. He faced the unknown. He cried. He shook. He felt helpless and alone. He carried wounded and lost brothers.

My dad with his father and sister.

My dad with his father and sister. October 1965.

But I will never truly know what he felt.

I did not understand the effects of war until a family camping trip in the early 1980s when I was about nine-years-old. I recall a helicopter hovering low over our campground. My dad suddenly jumped under the picnic table for cover. His screams of terror were like nothing I had seen before.

Like most vets, he is quiet about his service. This Memorial Day, I feel an obligation to understand more, to learn more about this time of my father’s life by taking a look back in time.

I owe him that.

*July 28, 1965
During a noontime press conference, President Lyndon Johnson announces he will send 44 combat battalions to Vietnam increasing the U.S. military presence to 125,000 men. Monthly draft calls are doubled to 35,000.

My dad was one of those who received his draft letter.

Part of President Johnson’s remarks that day, “…I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth, our finest young men, into battle. I have spoken to you today of the divisions and the forces and the battalions and the units, but I know them all, every one. I have seen them in a thousand streets, of a hundred towns, in every state in this union-working and laughing and building, and filled with hope and life. I think I know, too, how their mothers weep and how their families sorrow.”

My dad was the flower of his youth at age 19.

August 31, 1965
President Johnson signs a law criminalizing draft card burning. Although it may result in a five-year prison sentence and $1,000 fine, the burnings become common during anti-war rallies and often attract the attention of news media.

My father had never considered running.

October 30, 1965
25,000 march in Washington in support of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The marchers are led by five Medal of Honor recipients.

By then, this handsome, gangly boy from a small town in Central California was shipped off to boot camp thousands of miles away. It would be his first time riding in a plane.

November 14-16, 1965
The Battle of Ia Drang Valley marks the first major battle between U.S. troops and North Vietnamese Army regulars (NVA) inside South Vietnam. Upon landing, the troops quickly disembark then engage in fierce fire fights, supported by heavy artillery and B-52 air strikes, marking the first use of B-52s to assist combat troops. The two-day battle ends with NVA retreating into the jungle. 79 Americans are killed and 121 wounded. NVA losses are estimated at 2000.

November 17, 1965
The American success at Ia Drang is marred by a deadly ambush against 400 soldiers of the U.S. 7th Cavalry sent on foot to occupy nearby Landing Zone ‘Albany.’ NVA troops that had been held in reserve during Ia Drang, along with troops that had retreated, kill 155 Americans and wound 124.

November 27, 1965
In Washington, 35,000 anti-war protesters circle the White House then march on to the Washington Monument for a rally.

Boot camp was is in full force for my fatherHis fate not his own.

November 30, 1965
After visiting Vietnam, Defense Secretary McNamara privately warns that American casualty rates of up to 1000 dead per month could be expected.

December, 31, 1965
By year’s end U.S. troop levels in Vietnam reached 184,300. An estimated 90,000 South Vietnamese soldiers deserted in 1965, while an estimated 35,000 soldiers from North Vietnam infiltrated the South via the Ho Chi Minh trail. Up to 50 percent of the countryside in South Vietnam is now under some degree of Viet Cong control.

In early 1966, my dad had arrived in Vietnam for combatIt was then he began to write letters home to his father.

March 21, 1967
The Battle of Suoi Tre occurred during the early morning hours in Operation Junction City, a search and destroy mission by American military forces in Tay Ninh Province of South Vietnam, to the west of the capital Saigon.

He fought this bloody battle heroically. The intense battle was the most action my father had seen since deployment. He feared the worst, though, as his troop and those fighting along side him were being overrun by enemy forces. Fortunately, reinforcements arrived just in time. As my tough-as-nails 69-year-old father described it best: “We kicked their ass.”

He finally returned home after a grueling two years in the jungles of Vietnam.

 The rest of our boys came home nearly eight years later.

April 30, 1975
At 8:35 a.m., the last Americans, ten Marines from the embassy, depart Saigon, concluding the United States presence in Vietnam. North Vietnamese troops pour into Saigon and encounter little resistance. By 11:00 a.m., the red and blue Viet Cong flag fly from the presidential palace.

When the war finally ended, my dad had been home for several years. In 1971, he became a father to a beautiful baby girl. He was no longer the flower of his youth, but a wounded hero.

I love you, Dad. Words cannot express my gratitude for your bravery.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” 
- President Harry S. Truman

*Sourced from My Dad, The History Place and Wikpedia.

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